ST. PETERSBURG -- Lucas Luetge has been primarily a left-handed specialist in his brief career with the Mariners, but that role could be expanding a bit with fellow lefty Charlie Furbush now on the 15-day disabled list.
Luetge, a Rule 5 rookie who never pitched above Double-A ball before this season, found a successful niche as a guy who could come in and get a left-handed hitter or two out when needed. In his first 35 appearances this season, he totaled just 23 innings of work.
But the 25-year-old Texan was used to get five outs in the seventh and eighth innings of Tuesday's 9-6 victory at Kansas City, then closed out the ninth inning for Felix Hernandez in Thursday's 6-1 win. With Furbush sidelined by a strained biceps muscle, Luetge and Oliver Perez are the only lefties left in the bullpen.
"When we had three of us [left-handers] down there, I knew mostly that I'd be a one-batter guy just because Charlie and Oliver can go long," Luetge said. "I can, too, but it just hasn't been my role. But now that he's not here for a while, I'm going to have to extend myself a little."
Luetge has been thrilled to be a part of this year's Major League club after being selected in the Rule 5 Draft from the Brewers, and he -- and the Mariners -- are just learning how much he can do. So the youngster welcomes any increased role.
"Oh yeah. That's everybody's goal," he said. "I don't think there should be a relief pitcher out here that doesn't want to be a closer one day. You want to have the top spot. It's like every starter wants to be the ace. If you don't want that, you shouldn't be playing.
"I don't know too many people that just want to come in in a blowout game or a mop-up role. I think everybody wants a bigger role and when you get it, you've got to take advantage of it. Or if not, try for it again."
Heading into Friday's series opener against the Rays, Luetge owned a 1.40 ERA in 37 appearances and has shown an ability to get both left- and right-handers out. Lefties are hitting .146 (7-for-48) against him, while righties are .216 (8-for-37).
Montero finding his hitting stroke again
ST. PETERSBURG -- Mariners catcher Jesus Montero carried a five-game hitting streak into Friday's series opener against the Rays, having hit .524 (11-for-21) with three doubles, a home run and eight RBIs in that span.
The rookie smoked a line drive over the center-field fence in Thursday's finale at Kansas City to highlight a 3-for-4 game with four RBIs. It had been four weeks since his last home run and he wasn't sure about that one until he saw Royals center fielder Jarrod Dyson crash into fence as the ball sailed over his head.
"I didn't know it was a home run until I saw that guy bang down out there," Montero said. "He hit the wall hard. It was a curveball and I reached for it. I never thought that was going to be a home run."
He wound up a triple shy of the cycle for the second time this year.
"That always happens," he said with a smile. "I did it last year with the Yankees, but it's hard for me to get a triple. I'm too slow."
But Montero was quick with the bat over the past four days, the 10-for-17 series hiking him from .242 to .262.
"We did a nice job raising his average," said Royals manager Ned Yost. "He's a guy that has a lot of offensive potential, a nice young hitter."
"That's why we got him," said Felix Hernandez, who welcomed the run support on Thursday in recording the 6-1 win. "And he's going to keep getting better."
Montero figures the same thing will happen with the rest of his offensive mates. After the team's recent struggles, he welcomed the group breakthrough in Kansas City and believes it's a sign of better things to come.
"We have a lot of talks in the team," he said. "We want to do this. We want to win. We want to be better every day and do this together. That's what we're doing. Every single play, every single at-bat is important for us. We're trying every single thing to be good. And the team is doing better now."
Man vs. fence usually favors the wall
ST. PETERSBURG -- After Royals center fielder Jarrod Dyson smacked face-first into the wall while trying to track down a line-drive home run by Jesus Montero on Thursday, the topic of fence crashes was raised with a couple Mariners outfielders on Friday.
Casper Wells remembered splitting his chin and forehead open on a pole when he was a kid, but said he's yet to duplicate that feat in the Majors. But teammate Michael Saunders, who has roamed center field most of this season, said his worst incident came this spring while shagging balls at the team's spring complex in Peoria, Ariz.
Saunders said he was going back for a ball when he heard relief pitcher Scott Patterson yelling that he had plenty of room. The next thing he knew, he was crashing into a fairly unforgiving chain-link fence.
"It gave a little bit, but I came up and my sunglasses were on the side of my head, my hat was sideways ... and [Justin] Smoak was on the ground laughing," Saunders said.
As for Patterson, who had played with Saunders previously in Triple-A Tacoma?
"He said, 'I thought you knew me well enough to know I was kidding,'" said Saunders, still shaking his head at the memory.
• Rookie right-hander Erasmo Ramirez will throw a simulated game against live hitters before Saturday's game in what likely will be his final test before going out on a Minor League rehab stint if all goes well. Ramirez is on the 15-day disabled list with a strained elbow.
• Mike Carp went 0-for-3 with two walks for Triple-A Tacoma on Thursday while playing the full game at first base as he continues his rehab stint for an inflamed right shoulder. Carp, who has hit .229 in 12 games with the Rainiers, is "getting real close" to being ready to return, according to manager Eric Wedge.
• Reliever Stephen Pryor (strained groin) is also on a rehab stint with Tacoma, but Wedge said the team wants to see him pitch a few more times before he'll be ready to rejoin the club.
• First-round Draft pick Mike Zunino is off to a hot start with Class A Everett. Through Thursday's game, the catcher out of Florida was hitting .455 (10-for-22) with three home runs and three RBIs in five games since signing as the No. 3 pick in the first round.